Medical cannabis set to hit pharmacy shelves

More growers and more prescribing doctors, says reform, but stronger enforcement to stop drug ‘trickle’ into recreational market

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Illustrative image of someone purchasing medicinal marijuana in Tel Aviv. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Illustrative image of someone purchasing medicinal marijuana in Tel Aviv. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

Medical cannabis is set to hit pharmacy shelves in Israel in the form of cigarettes, cookies and oil, while the number of doctors permitted to prescribe the natural painkiller and the number of farmers allowed to grow it will substantially increase, according to a Health Ministry reform.

At the same time, the entire production and supply chain will be strictly supervised to ensure that medical cannabis, also known as marijuana, is kept out of the recreational drug market, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper reported Tuesday.

“We’re working to reorganize the field of medical cannabis in order to lighten the process for those who need it and, on the other hand, to make it harder for the material to trickle into the regular market,” Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said Monday. “There is no reason to make things difficult for whoever really needs it, just because there’s someone who exploits it illegally.”

Next week, Litzman is set to present his reform to the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee. After public consultation and an additional debate, the program is expected to win official approval.

At present, patients have to wait months for a prescription because only 36 doctors are permitted to prescribe the drug, according to Yedioth. Litzman plans to train and license many more.

The reform says that any pharmacy meeting the necessary criteria will be allowed to sell the drug. Today, it is available only at selected distribution points, or is delivered securely to the patient’s home.

And while only eight farms are allowed to grow cannabis today, the reform will lift all current restrictions and allow any farm to cultivate it, on condition that it has an up-to-date license issued under the ordinance rules of dangerous drugs.

Licenses will not be granted for cultivation for individual use. But if the number of farms is found to “endanger public safety” or make production unprofitable, the ministry will consider alternative routes, including ceilings on production, the paper said.

The Health Ministry will continue to give preference to importing the drug and will seek additional overseas producers, the reform says, while also raising the possibility that Israeli producers will export medical marijuana abroad — a route likely to harvest healthy profits.

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